2013-05-22 14:39:00

Belarus dismisses U.S. report's criticism of religious freedom restrictions

Minsk, May 22, Interfax - Belarus strictly adheres to its international commitments and national law in protecting religious freedoms, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in commenting on a U.S. Department of State report criticizing what it sees as restrictions of religious freedom in Belarus.

"The Republic of Belarus, without paying attention to such reports, strictly adheres both to its international commitments regarding the protection of religious freedoms and its national laws," Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marina Vanshina said in a commentary posted on the Foreign Ministry website.

This can be vividly confirmed by Belarus' report on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which reflects the real situation regarding the protection of religious rights and freedoms and cites concrete measures the Belarusian government is taking in this area, she said.

"This report does not seem interesting to Belarus, as it is the U.S. Department of State's internal document submitted to the Congress," Vanshina said. At the same time, she pointed out that the report "abounds in worn-out cliches and abstract stock phrases, which the report authors rewrite from year to year and do not bother to correlate them with the real state of affairs."

The U.S. Department of State said in the 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom that, while the Belarusian constitution guarantees religious freedom in the country, other laws and the policy pursued by the government in fact restrict this freedom.

"The government selectively and arbitrarily targeted religious groups, which led to self-censorship among many members. The government used provisions of the religion law to hinder or prevent activities of groups other than the Belarusian Orthodox Church," the report says.

"The law restricts the ability of religious groups to provide religious education and to import freely and distribute religious literature," the report says.

"Authorities harassed and fined members of certain religious groups, especially those the government regarded as bearers of foreign cultural influence or as having a political agenda," the report says. "Foreign missionaries, clergy, and humanitarian workers affiliated with Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church faced numerous obstacles, including deportation and visa refusal or cancellation," it says.